NUSA DUA — U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said Saturday that he was sticking with plans to attend a government-sponsored investment conference in Saudi Arabia this month despite the uproar over the disappearance of a prominent Saudi journalist, although he said he would reconsider that decision “if more information comes out.” Mnuchin said he was concerned about the fate of Saudi-born journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, last week and has not been seen since. Turkish investigators say Khashoggi, a well-connected Washington Post columnist who had become a critic of the powerful Saudi crown prince, was killed and his body dismembered by an elite Saudi security team. Saudi officials say Khashoggi left the consulate freely, but have not substantiated their claim.
SINGAPORE — It was tame enough weighed against his usual invective, but by itself Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s account of a conversation he had with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, was startling. During a meeting between the two leaders in Beijing in May 2017, the subject turned to whether the Philippines would drill for oil in a part of the South China Sea claimed by both countries. Duterte said he was given a blunt warning by China’s president. “[Xi’s] response to me [was], ‘We’re friends, we don’t want to quarrel with you, we want to maintain the presence of warm relationship, but if you force the issue, we’ll go to war,” Duterte recounted.
SINGAPORE — China has long bristled at the U.S. Navy’s “freedom of navigation operations” in the South China Sea, which challenge Beijing’s territorial claims in the disputed waters. So when Zhao Xiaozhuo, a senior colonel in the Chinese army, found himself with a chance to complain about them directly to U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis recently, he took it. The U.S. operations are a “violation of the law of the People’s Republic of China, of territorial waters,” Zhao told Mattis during a conference in Singapore on June 2. Mattis defended the naval operations by citing a 2016 international tribunal decision that dismissed China’s expansive “nine-dash line” claim to much of the sea.
SINGAPORE — With the U.S. government pledging to resume manned missions to the Moon, and eventually send a mission to Mars, Cold War-style competition over space exploration is re-emerging — between China and the U.S. this time. China hopes to make its first manned lunar landing within 15 years, around six decades after the last American walked on the moon in 1972. But China is not as far behind as those dates suggest. It hopes to make the first-ever landing on the dark side of the Moon by the end of 2018. This feat eluded the U.S. and Soviet Union during the heyday of their Space Race from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s. Other Asian counties, notably Japan and India, have their own space programs. But China appears to be leading the way.
SINGAPORE — If China and the United States continue their charge into a full-on trade war, few regions will be as vulnerable to the resulting economic turbulence as Southeast Asia. That’s why the 10 governments of the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Singapore this week are hashing out ideas about how the region can duck any shrapnel if the world’s two biggest economies keep firing protectionist salvos at each other. “Considering that China and the U.S. are ASEAN’s first and third trading partner respectively, the early exchange of blows between Washington and Beijing would be watched nervously across all ASEAN capitals,” said Tang Siew Mun, head of the ASEAN Studies Centre at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a Singapore-based research organization.
JAKARTA — While there is no clear threat from the U.S. to loosen its long-standing ties with Australia, some observers say the country may one day face a choice between its main security ally and its biggest trade partner. Graham Allison, author of Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?, said that China’s rise is forcing Asian countries with close ties to the U.S. to reconsider. “Largesse, economic imperialism — call it what you will: The fact is that China’s economic network is spreading across the globe, altering the international balance of power in a way that causes even longtime U.S. allies in Asia to tilt from the U.S. toward China,” Allison said.
SINGAPORE — After a saga lasting nearly two decades, Australia will on March 6 sign a boundary treaty with East Timor that will allow the Southeast Asian country to earn much-needed revenue from gas fields under the Timor Sea. “The Parties have reached agreement on a treaty which delimits the maritime boundary between them in the Timor Sea,” read an announcement made by the Permanent Court of Arbitration on February 25 after negotiations in Kuala Lumpur. “This marks a new chapter in our relationship with Timor-Leste, bringing us together as neighbours sharing a boundary, and as partners and friend,” said Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop in a March 4 press statement. Australia’s decision should strengthen ties with Southeast Asian countries as it finds itself torn between the interests of the U.S. and China. “Undoubtedly it will help in that way,” said John Blaxland, director of the Southeast Asia Institute at The Australian National University. Australia’s previous reluctance to establish a maritime boundary with the East Timorese prompted criticism from Dili and from campaign groups in Australia. “This treaty will hopefully go someway to restoring its reputation which definitely took a hit due to its bullying of East Timor” said Tom Clarke, spokesman for the Timor Sea Justice Campaign.
JAKARTA — Indonesia is the latest Asian country to face American trade curbs after the U.S. Department of Commerce said it planned to slap anti-dumping duties of 92.52% to 276.65% on biodiesel imports from the archipelago. Argentina, another biodiesel producer, was also targeted by the Feb. 21 announcement, after U.S. businesses complained that they were being undercut by unfairly subsidized fuel from both countries. The commerce department said that exporters from Argentina and Indonesia respectively sold biodiesel in the U.S. at 60.44% to 86.41% and 92.52% to 276.65% below what it deems fair value. The U.S. International Trade Commission will make a final decision on April 6 on whether the imports have hurt U.S. producers. If the ruling is upheld, the duties recommended by the commerce department will effectively price Indonesian biodiesel out of the U.S. market.
JAKARTA — A week after announcing tariffs on washing machine and solar panel imports, U.S. President Donald Trump claimed that “the era of [U.S.] economic surrender is totally over” during his maiden state of the union address. But the speech did not go into detail on trade with Asia or about the Trans Pacific Partnership, an American-led Asia-Pacific free trade deal that Trump withdrew from one year ago. During his hour and half address, which came Wednesday in Asia, Trump briefly recycled some of his previous trade rhetoric, saying he expects it to be “fair” and “reciprocal.” Pledging to “fix bad trade deals,” Trump promised to “protect American workers and American intellectual property, through strong enforcement of our trade rules.” Trump lauded Japanese carmakers Toyota and Mazda for announcing new production plants in the U.S. He also suggested that his recently announced tax cuts could spur inward investment
MANILA — President Donald Trump said on Monday he had a “great relationship” with his Philippine counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, amid contradictory messages from the administration of each country over whether human rights were discussed. The two presidents bonded during their much anticipated first formal meeting on Monday, held on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in Manila. The two presidents shared a joke at the media’s expense, with Mr Trump laughing as Mr Duterte joked that the press are “spies.” According to Harry Roque, a Philippines government spokesman, the two presidents bonded over another shared dislike, former US President Barack Obama, who Mr Duterte dismissed as “a son of a whore” due to Mr Obama’s criticism of the violent anti-drugs campaign launched by Mr Duterte in 2016.